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Want to save polar bears? Follow the ice

In the wake of the U.S. government’s watershed decision to propose listing the polar bear as "Threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is launching a bold initiative to save the Earth’s largest terrestrial predator, not by following the bears themselves, but the receding sea ice habitat that may drastically shrink as a result of global warming. In a project named "Warm Waters for Cool Bears," WCS will use both current and historical satellite imagery to predict where sea ice is likely to persist and where subsequent conservation efforts to save the species will be most effective.

The new project will be funded by a $100,000 grant from the Wendy P. McCaw Foundation and will enable landscape ecologists to bring nearly 30 years of daily collected satellite imagery and meteorological data into a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) map that will enable conservationists to more accurately predict where sea ice—a vital habitat for polar bears and seals that they prey on—will remain into the near future.

"The polar bear could be at the crossroads," said Scott Bergen, a landscape ecologist with WCS’ Living Landscapes Program and the principal investigator for the project. "The survival of some polar bear populations depend on the decisions we making within the next year. Fortunately, by using available data on sea ice trends over the past few decades, we can make effective decisions that can make a difference for the largest carnivore on earth."

The "Warm Waters for Cool Bears" initiative represents a departure from previous polar bear studies, which typically focused on either observing individual bears or following them with satellite collars, often at great cost and risk to bears and researchers alike.

Polar bears rely on seasonal sea ice for stalking their principal prey—ringed and bearded seals. Without the ice, the bears generally cannot get anywhere near these fast swimming mar
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Source:Wildlife Conservation Society


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